Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Cycle of Generosity

Spiritual practices assume many forms.  Any two practices may appear externally contradictory.  Any one practice may appear internally inconsistent.  Still, embodying any correct practice fully gives one the opportunity for the same realization in every aspect of life.


The opportunity to offer classes at the Baltimore Zen Center is ultimately rooted in generosity.  My own Aikido training began so many years ago as a penniless, married, military veteran attending college; my sensei offered me second-hand uniforms and gave me the opportunity to clean the dojo in exchange for my training.  My deep Zen training began when different aspects of my life were simultaneously crumbling; a Korean Buddhist monk offered his teaching in exchange for nothing at all.  Friends and family ensured that we had food, utilities, and a home as we encountered extraordinary challenges.

It is only fitting that as these two teachings are fused, they should be offered in the same spirit in which they were received.

The price of this teaching is your utmost generosity--and nothing more.

Of course, this price is very steep.  Developing the clarity of Zen or the awareness of Aikido is an extraordinary effort in developing sensitivity.  So too is the practice of generosity.  To be continuously on watch for what needs to be done and to be selfless in the satisfying of those needs--this is an insurmountable obstacle for many today.  The effects of this failing are visible everywhere.

So long as the monk can pay his mortgage, the dharma hall is available to us.  So long as the electric bill is paid, the fans or the heaters will run.  As long as there is a donation of water or food, we will be sustained in our practice.  As long as the mats and cushions are maintained our beginners will have some comfort as they develop into our training partners.  As long as we are generous with our energy with our partners, our mutual practices will flourish.  If we create a comfortable place, we will have this place to relax and share after our effort.  If the students give of their time to come together, a teacher will give of himself to join them where they are.  Finally, so long as we see the benefit to ourselves and to our peers, our practice of generosity ensures that we work to make this available to everyone.

Money, food, water, time, talent, effort, expertise, muscle power, and so on: these are what we have at our disposal.  These are our karma, and these are all of the ingredients necessary to create something wonderful to benefit everyone from it.  The obstacles to manifesting this vision are precisely the same as those which block the progress of dedicated Zen and Aikido practitioners:  distraction by one's own wonder if you should.  Nothing is perfected in this way...

Nearly twenty years ago, I inhaled.  No one asked why.  No one held the air hostage.  Nearly twenty years later, I exhale.  I don't ultimately know how you will use what you learn from your practice with us.  I do know that that it will become a part of you.  I know that this effort today will be part of your perfect, spontaneous response to your circumstances as you encounter them.  I also know that the entire universe is transformed through this great effort.

Chasing the result of an effort--giving money at the register and leaving with a gallon of milk---this is a very limited view, very far from the teaching.  Finding the connection between this and that is not the point, nor does it lead to your perfection.  There is so much more on a scale we cannot imagine---but seeing it is available through practice.  And thus this will be the cornerstone of our practice:  It is not a contract---not a promise of any sort---but faith in that when these elements and desires are brought together in this spirit, what should happen most certainly will occur.

Bird flies.  Feather falls.

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